The term ‘design thinking’ is well and truly basking in trending glory at present from innovation in business, manufacturing, public service design, crime prevention, policy development and place making. But before we explore the following urban art example, Prototype the Future, let us ponder what this term means. Design thinking is not new, one suspects that the word just conveniently ties with a neat bow a package of methods, tools, processes and expertise that designers have employed for over half a century to solve problems on a daily basis.
A lot has been written on the topic of design thinking, some with differing views and models (1-3). Design thinking takes a human-centered approach to problem solving and some would argue that an element central to this is ‘framing’ (4-6). Framing involves finding new and novel perspectives from which to view a problem (4), something expert designers have shown to do implicitly within a dynamic reflective practice that employs a number of methods to gain insights into the problem space. We are now seeing these cognitive approaches transcend traditional design roles and make their way into councils, government institutions and the business community freeing them from traditional ways of problem solving to unlock new standpoints and in turn new possibilities.
Alongside framing we see an iterative process championed across design education, practice and theory. This goes beyond the process of prototyping and refinement to a way of thinking that can increase the potential for innovation, enabling a deeper understanding of users needs and can permeate a company’s culture.
So what does this have to do with public art? Prototype the Future at Sydney’s Beams Festival 2013 asked festivalgoers to use an array of found objects to make physical representations of cityscapes; whilst the constantly evolving lightscape created a collective re-imagining of the urban environment upon an existing building in Chippendale.
At this juncture, I think it’s prudent to point out that Prototype the Future was in fact my installation and I was humbled to be approached by a passionate ‘Trender’ on the evening and coerced to share some thoughts for the Trending City's readership. Whilst I stop short of saying that my installation is that of a design thinking approach, I was inspired by my work in design and the notion of the rapid prototyping of concepts. Participatory art felt for me like a wonderfully delicious mix of serendipitous moments of pure creation and anxious butterflies swirling around the urban environment. Will the creation be interpreted the way you imagine, will it ‘work’ or will it take a turn that you don’t see coming?
An enjoyable Sydney evening ensued at the eclectic and down-to-earth Beams Festival in late 2013. The constantly evolving Chippendale is home to a variety of galleries and championed as the Chippendale Creative Precinct with the inspired vision to become ‘an internationally renowned arts precinct’ that connects local businesses and artists for creative and economic growth’ (7).
Prototype the Future saw people make statements, tell visual stories and a create montage of hybrid cityscapes. Far from the orderly participatory process I imagined (naively), there were people energetically jostling for a spot, adding and subtracting from each other’s creations, trading off items to finish their masterpieces only for someone to come along and change it all again. It was only then that I saw true dynamism of the city at play, the re-purposing, enhancements, individual and group pursuits, demolition and re-birth all set against the back drop of diverse social interactions.
Read more about the Chippendale Creative Precinct and Beams Festival here.
(1) Brown, T. (2009) Change By Design. New York, NY; Harper Collins.
(2) Cross, N. (2011) Design Thinking, Oxford; New York: Berg Publishers.
(3) Lawson, B. Dorst, K. (2009) Design Expertise; Oxford, Architectural Press.
(4) Dorst, K. (2011) The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application; Design Studies, Vol.32(6), pp.521-532
(5) Paton, B; Dorst, K. (2011) Briefing and reframing: A situated practice; Design Studies, Vol.32(6), pp.573-587
(6) Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner; USA, Basic Books.
(7) Retrieved from http://chippendalecreative.com/about/a-new-vision-for-our-city/ accessed March 2014.